By Christos Giovanopoulos
Infra-demos made two important public appearances this month. On the 2nd of February it was hosted by Transmediale, one of the most important arts & digital culture festivals in Europe. And on Saturday 9th it was a quest at the 1st radio programme of ERT, the national Greek broadcaster. In both cases Christos Giovanopoulos, the PhD researcher of Infra-demos, was invited and represented infra-demos talking about the solidarity movement and the research he carries out on solidarity infrastructure in Greece.
In Transmediale with ‘Under These Words”, a Athens’ solidarity documentary
Transmediale is one of the most renowned annual festival of digital media and visual arts. It started as an offshoot of Berlinale in 1988 aiming to accommodate electronic film and video productions. Since then Transmediale represents the emerging landscape in audio-visual arts and digital media, complementing the more classic program and celebration of the 7th art and the silver screen by Berlinale. This is why it is held as an entry to the later, just one week prior to the main film festival.
This year’s Transmedialefocused on ‘Affective Infrastructures’; “on how feelings are made into objects of technological design…” as its program states. The key question the festival asked was: “‘What moves you?’, referring not only to an emotional response but also to the infrastructures and aesthetics that govern how affect becomes mobilized as a political force today”. And more specifically it asked: “What motivates social engagement and how can new forms of care and solidarity be developed and embodied?” Issues that lie at the heart of Infrademos’ research on solidarity infrastructures.
Among a variety of exhibitions, screenings, workshops and public debates Robin Vanbesien’s film Under These Words – Solidarity Athens 2016was chosen to be screened and presented in a Q&A session by the director and Christos Giovanopoulos of Infrademos. The latter, both appears in this docu-drama and he assisted in its production. The film follows 3 actors, starting from their reflections on “what is crisis”, as they move in the city of Athens visiting five self-organised solidarity structures. As various solidarity activists talk about their endeavors and struggles, the issue moves from the crisis to the solidarity as a transfigurative response to the former. In that sense, the actors’ initial contemplation on the crisis is replaced by the activists’ concrete efforts to substantiate and envision a world based on solidarity.
The ‘thick-research’ that facilitated the creative process of the film-making led Robin Vanbesien, the filmmaker, to publish “Solidarity Poiesis: I will come and steal you”(2017). A booklet which collects activists’ reflections and theorists’ conceptualisations in a quest for an updated notion of solidarity, based on its emergent traits against the historically defined modes and perception of this term.
Both the reality on the ground and the concepts that those solidarity practices inform, as they appeared in Greece, was the main focus of the Q&A session that followed the screening of “Under These Words”.In addition, issues regarding the aesthetics and representation politics of solidarity were also raised. The session was chaired by Briggite Kuster, who interrogated Robin Vanbesien and Christos Giovanopoulos. The warming up questions were followed by audience’s interventions that revealed both the potential and emergency of solidarity - as notion and as specific post-crisis and post-capitalist paradigm – against the rise of racism and far right nationalism in Europe. However, it also raised concerns that critically crosscut the concept of solidarity against both the rise of neo-fascism - with its various ethno-tribal underpinnings of the term - and the institutionalized evocations of solidarity by dominant political forces and discourses - which bear the bulk of responsibility in undermining the foundations of solidarity (and social welfare) among the lower classes, local and/or not, leading to their fragmentation and infighting.
Interestingly, what occurred from the debate, was the need for a notion of a ‘fighting solidarity’. The sociologists Oosterlynck and Bouchaute (2013) in reviewing the various theoretical approaches to solidarity, make a worth noting claim. They suggest that the only theoretical strand of solidarity, as the term has been firstly negotiated in the 19thcentury, which has not been updated with a modern version in the (late indeed) 20thcentury, has been this of the ‘solidarity as social struggle’ (represented by Marx’s and Weber’s take on solidarity in the 19thcentury). What is striking is not so much that the Greek example of solidarity seems to regenerate a paradigm of this missing concept of a ‘fighting solidarity’. It is rather that the participants in Transmediale’s event highlighted the luck of – and therefore the need for - an updated understanding of solidarity as both a mutual, inclusive and militant social practice against structural, institutional and everyday injustices. The debate was of course informed also by the fears and dystopic future generated by the German (and not only) political context. Which only underlines the importance of emerging participatory infrastructures of a ‘fighting solidarity’ as means and hotbeds of a tangible hope and social vision.
‘Solidarity on the Airwaves’
Thus titled the weekly radio program held by the Social Metropolitan Clinic of Hellinikon (MKIE) each Saturday on the 1st programme of ERT, the national broadcaster of Greece, which hosted infra-demos’ researcher Christos Giovanopoulos on the 9thof February.
ERT became known in 2013 when the then pro-Troika and austerity coalition (conservatives, social-democrats and euroleftist) government decided to shut it down, out of the blue. The instant mobilisation and occupation of the broadcaster’s headquarters and main studios, by dozens of thousands of people constitute one of the most remarkable moments of the popular resistance to the imposed neoliberal memoranda in Greece. During this fight, which carried on until the reestablishment of ERT as the national state broadcaster in 2015, both the TV and the radio services of ERT broadcasted under the self-management of their staff. ERT, thus represents also one of the fiercest and innovative infrastructural contestation occurred in Greece the previous years of the crisis.
At the same time MKIE was the first solidarity clinic to be set in Athens. It was an offspring of the Syntagma sq. occupation, in the summer of 2011, and the fight, led by the radical left mayor of the area Kortzidis, against the privatisation of the old airport and US military base. In this context the local council provided for free premises previously belonging to the defunct airport to the solidarity clinic, as it also did to other citizen self-organised structures (Dalakoglou, 2017).
So the radio-program ‘Solidarity on the Airwaves’ is the outcome of these innovative radicalization of social contestation with emphasis on participation and self-management. Each Saturday at 2 pm the MKIE and the ‘Social Kitchen: The Other Man” produce an hourly program presenting the latest on the solidarity movement and other social struggles. The program hosted Infrademos’ researcher Christos Giovanopoulos and OpenLab researcher Vassilis Vlachokyriakos in a joint presentation of some first research findings with the Oral History Group of MKIE.
Infrademos’ interrogation of the infrastructuring capacities of the solidarity structures in Greece, follows a participatory action research method. In this framework it participates, among others, in the Oral History Group of the MKIE; which aims to document the history and experience of the solidarity group in a participatory collective way. This has been a way the assembly of MKIE decided, as a tool to detect and design the future potential of MKIE based on its own knowledge and capacities. In this frame, researchers and MKIE members together composed the questionnaires and all were trained by the Athens’ Oral History group on the technical requirements for oral history interviews and documentation.
Hence, during the radio program some first examples of the gathered material was presented in raw format. The extracts were chosen by the two researchers and by Petros Boteas, MKIE activist and producer/presenter of ‘Solidarity on the Airwaves’, and they represented a small example out of 17 interviews taken so far (podcast). The solidarity activists’ interviewees provided beyond their personal trajectories, their opinion on matters such as what constitutes solidarity, hierarchy & horizontal structures of organising, the transformative nature of health practices of the MKIE, the future and the limitations of the solidarity clinics.
The whole process, besides representing an example of collective reflection, it underlines the potential embedded in the sociality and habitus produced by the self-organised solidarity structures for participatory infrastructuring and knowledge production.
Dalakoglou, D. (2017) Infrastructural Gap. City vol 20(6)
Oosterlynck, Stijn & Van Bouchaute, Bart, 2013, Social Solidarities: The search for solidarity in sociology, Diversiteit & Gemeenschapsvorming (DieGem), retrieved on 13.12.2018 from http://www.solidariteitdiversiteit.be/uploads/docs/bib/00321431_1.pdf
Vanbesien, Robin (ed.), 2017, Solidarity Poiesis: I will come and steal you, Berlin: b-books & Ghent: MER & Brussels: SARMA & timely.